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Hamilton heads McLaren 1-2 in Interlagos qualifying; Vettel fourth and Alonso eighth in championship fight

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button_n_hamiltonLewis Hamilton blazed to his seventh pole position of the season in his final race for McLaren Mercedes in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix this afternoon. The McLaren MP4-27 was the car to have in Interlagos as Jenson Button was just shy of Hamilton to qualify second and lock out the front row.

The Red Bulls were close to McLaren at the top and it was Mark Webber who was the faster car in third, ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel. However, championship leader Vettel will not be overly disappointed as he is four places ahead of rival Fernando Alonso, who could only manage an 8th fastest time.

Alonso qualified behind teammate Felipe Massa, the Brazilian notching up a strong 5th on the grid at his home race.

If the race finishes in the qualifying order, Vettel would clinch the title comfortably and McLaren would overtake Ferrari to second in the constructors' standings. But with overnight thunderstorms and rain forecast tomorrow, the race could well be a lottery and the outcome unpredictable.

Session 1

The opening session began in damp but drying conditions on parts of the track following a rain shower 30 minutes prior to the session.

The runners, especially the 'new' teams were keen to go out with a queue of cars lining up at the pit-lane exit headed by the Caterham of Heikki Kovalainen on slick medium compound tyres. After the light went green, Narain Karthikeyan had an excursion off track in the HRT at the exit of Turn 4, demonstrating the level of grip in that section. The crowds were entertained as Marussia's Timo Glock and Kovalainen battled wheel-to-wheel slipping and sliding all the way from Juncao through to Turn 1. Meanwhile the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi set the initial tentative fastest time as more cars began coming out.

Among those cars the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg was the first to venture out experimenting on the green-walled intermediate tyres. The German was slow through the first part of the lap which was too dry for the grooved rubber and immediately went back into the pits. Williams' Pastor Maldonado then went top of the sheets on the dry hard tyres as the times continued to fall.

Fernando Alonso stepped out of the pits with 9 minutes remaining in the session, his engineer relaying instructions for 7 laps on that stint. He traded fastest laps with the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton as teammate Felipe Massa went third. Track conditions were improving steadily and multiple drivers had time at the top briefly as lap-times tumbled.

Among all the action Romain Grosjean was blocked by Pedro de la Rosa's HRT at the exit of Turn 15, banging his left front tyre with the Armco and eventually losing his front wing as he carried on. The Frenchman came in to have a rapid nose change. At this point Hamilton was in P1 with a comfortable cushion over Bruno Senna's Williams. He went faster still as the chequered flag fell, and Grosjean just managed to claw his way outside the drop zone, but with Daniel Ricciardo behind him going faster was bumped back into 18th and was the first car to be eliminated.

Championship contenders Vettel and Alonso were fifth and tenth respectively in that session.

Out in Q1- 18. Grosjean 19. Petrov 20. Kovalainen 21. Glock 22. Pic 23. Karthikeyan 24. de la Rosa

Session 2

As the middle session began, the top teams stayed in the pits initially with the exception of the Ferraris, who went out on hard tyres on a track which now had a clear dry line in the previously wet sector 3. Alonso went fastest ahead of the midfield runners also setting times. The Force Indias were looking strong with Hulkenberg in provisional P2 behind the Ferrari.

The sun came out on the pit straight five minutes into the session while the Red Bulls and McLarens waited in the pits. Massa now went second and all runners came into the pits after their first stints. Hamilton, Vettel and Webber now began their out-laps, Vettel told to do 4 timed laps on his radio. The McLaren was the first car in the 1:13s to go fastest with his first tour. That time was soon beaten by Vettel aided by a tow from Massa's Ferrari in the final curved 'straight'. Button went third fastest just shy of his teammate.

In the dying seconds of the session, Massa was in the drop zone in 12th as he began his final effort. His lap was good enough only for a P10, but he survived with Michael Schumacher and Senna unable to improve on their times behind him. Alonso was just ahead in ninth place.

Curiously, Maldonado failed to stop for a weight check at the end of the session and drove straight past the FIA garage at the beginning of the pit-lane. He could be penalised for the incident post-qualifying.

Out in Q2- 11. di Resta 12. Senna 13. Perez 14. Schumacher 15. Kobayashi 16. Ricciardo 17. Vergne

Session 3

Glorious sunshine greeted the start of the final session, with the track temperature up to 34 degrees. Nico Rosberg was the sole driver out early. He was soon joined on track by Hamilton and Alonso. The Briton raised the bar with a 1:12.850 time, ahead of the Spaniard.

Massa, Webber and Button then went successively second, with Vettel going only P6 on his first timed lap. He had made an error at Turn 4 where the Red Bull went slightly wide off-track. Cars then came in for fresh tyres for their second run.

Meanwhile, Hulkenberg went fourth fastest ahead of both Ferraris. Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen then split the Ferraris to go P6 with his first effort.

In the final minute, Webber was fastest in the first two sectors to take the provisional pole with a 1:12.581 time. Hamilton though beat the Australian's time by a tenth with a 1:12.458 to go on top, as Vettel behind him could go only P3, only to be dropped another place by Button going second, a mere 5 hundredths slower than Hamilton.

So it was to be a McLaren and Red Bull lock out of the first two rows, while Massa improved on his final lap to go P5. Maldonado and Hulkenberg separated the Ferraris with Alonso down in 8th place, ahead of Raikkonen and Rosberg.

Top 10- 1. Hamilton 2. Button 3. Webber 4. Vettel 5. Massa 6. Maldonado 7. Hulkenberg 8. Alonso 9. Raikkonen 10. Rosberg

File Photograph Courtesy: McLaren